By JUDY SHERIDAN
An elderly man, his wife and their dog escaped with their lives on Valentine’s Day evening when the Ford pickup they were driving broke down on the railroad tracks in Aledo, minutes before it was hit by an eastbound train.
The couple, who was returning to Amarillo and appeared to be in their 80s, according to Nick Walker of the Aledo Fire Department, scrabbled down the rocky railroad bed to safety when they heard the train coming, the woman breaking her finger and the man scraping his knee.
“They refused all medical treatment,” Walker said.
Trooper Lonny Haschel, a spokesman with the Department of Public Safety, said the driver of the truck, heading north on FM Road 1187, got stuck on the tracks when he turned right directly onto them, believing he was in a lane that veered to the right.
“He broke his drive shaft,” he said. “He got out of his truck, and the train came along and struck the truck with nobody in it.”
Haschel said DPS did not do a report because the incident took place on private property, the domain of the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
UPRR Corporate Relations and Media Director Raquel Espinoza confirmed that an eastbound train with two locomotives and 110 rail cars filled with mixed freight hit the back of an unoccupied pickup at 7:47 p.m. Feb. 14.
The crossing at FM 1187 is marked with crossing signs and equipped with lights and gates, she noted, adding that the report shows the driver drove more than 110 feet down the tracks before stopping.
Espinoza said the investigation is ongoing.
Morris Leondar, of the Aledo Fire Department, said the pickup was on the track “a minute or so” before the couple heard the train coming and bailed.
“It was about as close as you get I guess,” he said. “The train smashed in the truck bed and knocked the truck off the tracks.”
Eastbound trains travel uphill, so they don’t travel as fast as their westbound counterparts, Leondar said, a factor that worked in the couple’s favor.
He said the incident caused a traffic backup that lasted about two hours.
Aledo city administrator Ken Pfeifer said the signs and multiple barrels marking the newly-opened one-way couplet, which includes the crossing, were not factors in the accident.
“The reports from those on site (the emergency personnel and engineer) indicated the elderly couple turned directly onto the railroad track,” he emailed.